Victoria has a unique network of public riparian land known as Crown frontages (owned by the State), which were mostly established between the 1850s and the 1880s, in recognition of their value as a public resource. Crown frontages occur mostly on larger waterways. On smaller waterways in agricultural landscapes, riparian land is usually privately owned.

Crown frontage snapshot

  • Of the estimated 170,000 kilometres of river and creek frontage in Victoria, about 30,000 kilometres are Crown frontages. The remaining riparian land is a mix of privately owned and other types of public land (e.g. in national parks);
  • About 22,000 kilometres of Crown frontages are within cleared catchments with the remainder in larger public land blocks such as parks and State forests;
  • Crown frontages vary from a few metres to kilometres wide, with the average width being about 20 to 40 metres;
  • The total area of Crown frontage in the state is about 100,000 hectares, which is only 0.4 per cent of the State and 1.1 per cent of the total public land estate.

For more information about Crown frontages go to the DELWP Crown land page.

Crown frontage licences

At present, about 17,000 kilometres of the 22,000 kilometres of Crown frontages within cleared catchments are managed by the adjacent landholder, under about 10,000 agricultural licences. Most of these licences are for grazing purposes, with a small and diminishing number for the cultivation of crops.

The licences are typically renewed every five years. The average licence fee is $85 for five years, calculated on productive value of the land but discounted based on weed management and other obligations on the licensee.

Licences can now also be issued or amended to recognize that all or part of the frontage is being managed to protect and improve the riparian environment, for example fenced out and supporting native vegetation. These are called riparian management licences.

Riparian management licences attract a reduced licence fee.

By mid-2014 there were nearly 800 riparian management licences (and 152 conservation licences) covering over 7,000 hectares of Crown frontage, of which over 5,600 hectares is fenced and protected.

For more information about Crown frontages go to the DELWP Crown land page.

Riparian land managers

Given the broad range of values and complex ownership and management of riparian land, there are many stakeholders with different roles in the management of riparian land.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has overall management responsibility for Crown frontages in Victoria. It is responsible for their administration, including their licensing for riparian management and for grazing and ensuring compliance with licence conditions.

DELWP also has a direct on-ground responsibility for unlicensed Crown frontages and some other categories of frontage. Furthermore, DELWP provides funding for riparian management programs through the catchment management authorities. In particular, through implementation of the Regional Riparian Action Plan, an additional $40 million is being provided for riparian works from 2015-2020.

Waterway managers (that is, catchment management authorities (CMAs) and Melbourne Water in the Port Phillip and Westernport region) are primarily responsible for the maintenance and improvement of most riparian land through partnerships with adjoining landholders. Typical management activities include fencing, revegetation, maintenance or improvement of existing indigenous vegetation, controlled grazing, provision of off-stream stock watering infrastructure and weed and pest animal management.

Waterway managers typically do not have any direct land management responsibilities for either private or Crown riparian land.

Landholders play a major role in the management of both private riparian land and licensed Crown frontages.

In partnership with waterway managers, landholders typically contribute resources to the initial riparian management activities and undertake long-term management of the fenced riparian land. Even on frontages where there is no input from waterway managers, many landholders expend considerable resources on pest animal and weed management as required by their legislative obligations and licence conditions.

Victorian Traditional Owners have a strong connection to waterways as the lifeblood for Country. In particular, riparian land has significant cultural value for Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal people. Of the 35,000 Aboriginal places and significant sites recorded on the Aboriginal Heritage Registry (at 2011), 95 per cent occur within one kilometre of a waterway or water body . These can include sites such as middens, scar trees and fish traps, as well as places with spiritual and ceremonial significance. The Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations has as one of its core principles in its Traditional Owner Water Policy Framework  that Traditional Owners are committed to restoring the health of Victoria’s inland waters and protecting the values associated with these waters.

Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal people are important partners to CMAs in the planning, implementation and monitoring of on-ground riparian works. A few CMAs already partner with Traditional Owner groups in the planning for their waterway and riparian programs. For example, the Glenelg Hopkins CMA has a long-term partnership with the Gunditjmara community that includes collaborating on the planning of riparian projects through an advisory group, particularly when waterway action plans are developed. Furthermore, many Traditional Owner businesses that collect seed and propagate tube stock, participate in pest plant and animal control programs and undertake riparian revegetation and fencing, already work in partnership with CMAs.

Furthermore, several Traditional Owner groups play a role in riparian management on Crown land, through agreements reached under Native Title and the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.

Some Crown riparian land is also managed by committees of management, Parks Victoria and other agencies. The typical focus for this management is the protection of high environmental and recreational values. Also, much riparian land in urban settings is managed by local councils, as committees of management, with the principal focus being on enhancing recreational values.

‘Friends of’ and Landcare groups can also play a role assisting other agencies in riparian management, for example, through weed management and revegetation activities. Landcare groups often form the link between individual landholders and agencies and may be able to offer additional resources, such as volunteers to help with revegetation.

Other agencies also play a role and have an interest in riparian management, such as rural water corporations through the authorisation of the use of water for stock, local government through enforcing various local laws (for example, about vegetation clearance and heritage controls) and urban water corporations, which must provide safe drinking water to their customers.